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Match Point

 Screenwriter-director: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Lucy Darwin, Gareth Wiley
Executive producers: Jack Rollins, Charles H. Joffe, Stephen Tenenbaum
Director of photography: Remi Adefarasin
Cast:
Nola Rice: Scarlett Johansson
Chris Wilton: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Chloe Hewett Wilton: Emily Mortimer
Tom Hewett: Matthew Goode
Alec Hewett: Brian Cox
Eleanor Hewett: Penelope Wilton

The film undoubtedly will find a domestic distributor, but how his normal fans will react to the (mostly) comedic writer-director exploring such new territory is anybody's guess. The film certainly represents a marketing challenge in North America but might actually do better boxoffice in Europe.

The story is set in contemporary England, but it feels more like England several decades ago. It also feels like the work of an outsider, whose knowledge of the country, customs and class system derives from movies and novels rather than experience. Production designer Jim Clay's polished interiors and locations in the Tate Modern and other new galleries certainly make things appear modern-day. But Allen's tale of a poor Irish lad's social climbing via marriage and the beautiful American actress who comes between him and his wife feels distinctly retro.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former tennis pro who leaves the circuit when he realizes he isn't good enough. He gets a job teaching tennis to wealthy clients at a posh London club. Here he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), and they discover a mutual interest in opera. An invitation from Tom to join him in the family opera box allows Chris to meet Tom's sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), a pleasant and sweet woman, who quickly develops a romantic interest in the handsome tennis coach. Chris soon obliges her, more out of friendliness than any grand passion.

That passion does spark when he meets Tom's fiancee, the moody and provocative Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). She drinks a bit -- most of the characters display fondness for alcohol -- so when Chris catches Nola in the right mood and moment, they have a fling.

Tom eventually jilts Nola, but by then Chris has married Chloe and landed a cushy job in her father's firm. Chloe desperately wants to get pregnant but has no luck. Fate has Chris run into Nola a year later. Their affair resumes, and soon -- and somewhat predictably -- the wrong woman gets pregnant.

Pressure builds on Chris to do "the right thing." But this would require his surrender of a luxurious lifestyle to which he has grown quite accustomed. He secretly borrows one of his father-in-law's shotguns. Like the adulterous ophthalmologist in Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors," Chris faces a moral dilemma: destruction of his life or murder.

Allen's key philosophical interest here is the notion that luck or fate plays a larger role in our lives than we believe and that justice itself is often a matter of luck. Certainly, injustice occurs more frequently.

Allen doesn't portray the characters with much depth. Chris, his protagonist, is the most detailed character, of course, but we never are sure what drives him. He more or less falls into his marriage and job; we certainly sense no burning ambition or steely determination that would lead him to contemplate such a radical act as murder.

Nola possesses plenty of sexual allure, but she never is seen taking advantage of it. If anything, it causes her much grief.

The Hewett siblings are nice sorts, neither overly impressed with their wealth nor abusive toward others. Their father (Brian Cox) and mother (Penelope Wilton) are vivid though light sketches.

Scenes involving Chris' business dealings and later police procedures feel inauthentic. So "Match Point" is a story designed more to prove a philosophical point than to examine a social milieu or a particular cast of characters.

Another factor might explain the sketchiness of these characters: In his movies, Allen explores so much character through comedy that when he denies himself funny lines or physical comedy, his characters lack dimension. They feel soulless, reacting more to the dictates of the story than to inner impulses and desires.

Production values, as one expects from a Woody Allen movie, are impeccable, with opera supplying the only music on the soundtrack.

The Family Stone

Credits:
Director-screenwriter
: Thomas Bezucha
Producer: Michael London
Executive producer: Jennifer Ogden
Director of photography: Jonathan Brown
Cast:
Sybil Stone: Diane Keaton
Julie Morton: Claire Danes
Meredith Morton: Sarah Jessica Parker
Everett Stone: Dermot Mulroney
Kelly Stone: Craig T. Nelson
Ben Stone: Luke Wilson
Amy Stone: Rachel McAdams
Thad Stone: Tyrone Giordano
Patrick Thomas: Brian White
Susannah: Elizabeth Reaser


Throughout the uneven film and its mixed bag of performances, the compelling point of focus is Diane Keaton's smart, funny, spot-on natural portrait of the formidable Stone matriarch. Fans of the actress and of Sarah Jessica Parker, in her first major post-"Sex and the City" film role, will flock to the holiday offering, which should be a draw for older audiences and women.

Unfortunately, Parker is one of the actors who fares least well here. Fans looking for Carrie Bradshaw's irreverence will find instead a multitasking, throat-clearing control freak. Parker does, however, deliver some strong moments late in the proceedings, when script mechanics release her character, Meredith, from the Stone family's sacrificial altar.

The story unfolds over three days in an unidentified New England town, where Meredith and her boyfriend, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), visit his artsy mother and professor father (Craig T. Nelson, lending low-key strength). The deck is stacked against her: Everett's outspoken younger sister Amy (Rachel McAdams), having already met Meredith, hates her. And Sybil (Keaton), a striking, casually dressed woman with a Susan Sontag-style shock of white hair, regards Meredith with a roll of the eyes and a sneer of disdain when she crosses the threshold in black power pumps that couldn't be more out of place. Who wouldn't feel intimidated?

Where Bezucha (whose other feature credit is the indie "Big Eden") gets it right is in his clear-eyed depiction of the way ultra-tolerant, "open-minded" people can be utterly intolerant -- and even delight in being mean, with McAdams and Keaton offering fine examples. But he layers his story with romantic alignments and realignments that all feel forced.

The roundelay begins when Meredith, under passive-aggressive siege, summons her sister to lend moral support. When Everett lays eyes on the luminous Julie (Claire Danes), as clear a contrast to the shrill Meredith as could be imagined, his mask of misery finally melts. Like Parker, Mulroney is constrained by a role that doesn't quite parse. However mismatched Everett and Meredith may be, any couple this appearance-conscious would at least try not to look as downright miserable as these two do. And as successful businesspeople, they would know how to work a room somewhat better than they manage here.

But families have a way of laying low our best defenses, and as this gathering unravels, Meredith's chief ally is not her boyfriend but his brother (Luke Wilson, in one of the film's best performances), a documentary film editor exuding a soulful -- and cannabis-enhanced -- serenity. Also seeing through Meredith's brittle demeanor to her self-doubt is Nelson's paterfamilias Kelly, providing counterpoint to Sybil and Amy's drama for flash judgments.

Rounding out the brood are married, pregnant daughter Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) and youngest son Thad (Tyrone Giordano), perhaps Bezucha's most loaded construct. Thad is gay and deaf, his partner (Brian White) is black, and they're planning to adopt. All of which would be fine if Thad didn't exist merely as a setup for the dinner-table debacle in which Meredith, speaking her mind, plants both feet firmly in mouth and proceeds to do a Riverdance.

It's no wonder that Sybil is bracing herself against Everett's request for the heirloom ring -- the second meaning of the film's title -- that she had promised him for his intended, long before Meredith entered the picture. Keaton brings a bracing acerbity to Sybil, who reneges on that promise with an unapologetic, "Tough shit." Although she's not always likable, her toughness and honesty are her family's life force.

The production has a suitably unfussy sheen, with Jane Ann Stewart's production design and Shay Cunliffe's costumes conveying the Stone home's lived-in, bohemia-tinged comfort. New Jersey and Connecticut locations serve well as the snow-covered burg. A holiday-themed bonus awaits Keaton fans who stay to the end of the credits.

The Chronicles of Narnia

Credits:
Director:
Andrew Adamson
Screenwriters: Ann Pea*****, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on the book by: C.S. Lewis
Producers: Mark Johnson, Philip Steuer
Executive produces: Andrew Adamson, Perry Moore
Cast:
Lucy: Georgie Henley
Edmund: Skandar Keynes
Peter: William Moseley
Susan: Anna Popplewell
White Witch: Tilda Swinton
Mr. Tumnus: James McAvoy
Professor Kirke: Jim Broadbent
Ginarrbrik: Kiran Shah
Voice of Aslan: Liam Neeson


"The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" film series have shown there is a huge hunger for movie franchises based on fantasy literature. Disney and Walden Media's reported $150 million gamble on this 55-year-old book, the first in a series of seven that explore the alternate universe of Narnia, certainly has the potential to become a megahit. Hard to say what the impact will be of Disney's acknowledged campaign to get out churchgoers for "Narnia," which is clearly an allegory of the Christ story, but it can't hurt. Certainly children will be enthralled by the journey through Narnia and this thrill should extend to adults, too.

Writers Ann Pea*****, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely along with Adamson mostly adhere to Lewis' story line while adding a few rousing action sequences: There's an escape from evil wolves through a tunnel, a chase across a frozen lake and a wild ice-flow trip down rapids. For the climactic battle, the filmmakers throw in creatures and animals unmentioned or scarcely mentioned in the book: from centaurs and satyrs of Greek mythology to bears, hypos, tigers, ogres, giants and dwarfs.

It all begins with a wardrobe.

In besieged World War II England, the four Pevensie siblings -- Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and the younger children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) -- are evacuated from London to a large country manor of an old professor (Jim Broadbent). Then a game of hide-and-seek uncovers an enchanted wardrobe.

To their amazement, they discover that if they step to the back of this large piece of furniture passed hanging fur coats, they stumble into the parallel universe of Narnia, a land of talking animals and fantastic creatures. It is also covered in snow. For Narnia has fallen under the curse of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), which has forced inhabitants to suffer through 100 years of winter -- but with no Christmas.

The appearance of the Pevensie children changes all this. Foes of the White Witch spring into action as these "children of Adam and Eve" might fulfill an old prophesy. Rumor has it that Aslan, the long-absent lion king (and the story's Christ figure), is on the move, ready to reclaim his realm.

The betrayal of the siblings by brother Edmund is actually presaged better in the movie than the book. The screenwriter clearly establish a conflict between the younger and older brother before they enter Narnia and Edmund's (more felt than actual) ostracism from the family rankles the youngster.

Indeed the writers have nicely fleshed out all four children. Peter is a born leader but uncertain how to grasp leadership. Lucy, the innocent who discovers Narnia, is ever curious and determined. Susan's warm maternal instincts are clearly pronounced here. And Edmund's "treachery" stems more from hurt feelings than the mere taste of the White Witch's Turkish Delight.

Among the adult actors, Swinton stands out. She is no fairy-tale witch, but rather a fierce, modern villainess with pools of liquid evil for eyes and powerful, wiry arms that slash and thrust her many weapons. Another highlight is James McAvoy's warmth and humor in the key role of the conflicted faun, Mr. Tumnus.

The CG characters are terrific. Aslan is the Real McCoy as a lion from the individual strands of hair in his mane to those sad-angry eyes. Liam Neeson is too familiar a voice to come from this creature but Neeson does give Aslan gravitas. Ray Winstone and Dawn French turn Mr. and Mrs. Beaver into winsome, chattery creatures.

Much of the production takes place on New Zealand soundstages, but outdoor action is shot all over the globe in Poland, the Czech Republic, England and New Zealand. This all comes together into a believable Narnia as Donald M. McAlpine's crisp cinematography jives well with special effects pulled off by three companies -- Rhythm & Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks and ILM. Harry Gregson-Williams supplies the lush and lyrical score

Aeon Flux

Credits:
Director:
Andrew Adamson
Screenwriters: Ann Pea*****, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on the book by: C.S. Lewis
Producers: Mark Johnson, Philip Steuer
Executive produces: Andrew Adamson, Perry Moore
Cast:
Lucy: Georgie Henley
Edmund: Skandar Keynes
Peter: William Moseley
Susan: Anna Popplewell
White Witch: Tilda Swinton
Mr. Tumnus: James McAvoy
Professor Kirke: Jim Broadbent
Ginarrbrik: Kiran Shah
Voice of Aslan: Liam Neeson


"The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" film series have shown there is a huge hunger for movie franchises based on fantasy literature. Disney and Walden Media's reported $150 million gamble on this 55-year-old book, the first in a series of seven that explore the alternate universe of Narnia, certainly has the potential to become a megahit. Hard to say what the impact will be of Disney's acknowledged campaign to get out churchgoers for "Narnia," which is clearly an allegory of the Christ story, but it can't hurt. Certainly children will be enthralled by the journey through Narnia and this thrill should extend to adults, too.

Writers Ann Pea*****, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely along with Adamson mostly adhere to Lewis' story line while adding a few rousing action sequences: There's an escape from evil wolves through a tunnel, a chase across a frozen lake and a wild ice-flow trip down rapids. For the climactic battle, the filmmakers throw in creatures and animals unmentioned or scarcely mentioned in the book: from centaurs and satyrs of Greek mythology to bears, hypos, tigers, ogres, giants and dwarfs.

It all begins with a wardrobe.

In besieged World War II England, the four Pevensie siblings -- Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and the younger children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) -- are evacuated from London to a large country manor of an old professor (Jim Broadbent). Then a game of hide-and-seek uncovers an enchanted wardrobe.

To their amazement, they discover that if they step to the back of this large piece of furniture passed hanging fur coats, they stumble into the parallel universe of Narnia, a land of talking animals and fantastic creatures. It is also covered in snow. For Narnia has fallen under the curse of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), which has forced inhabitants to suffer through 100 years of winter -- but with no Christmas.

The appearance of the Pevensie children changes all this. Foes of the White Witch spring into action as these "children of Adam and Eve" might fulfill an old prophesy. Rumor has it that Aslan, the long-absent lion king (and the story's Christ figure), is on the move, ready to reclaim his realm.

The betrayal of the siblings by brother Edmund is actually presaged better in the movie than the book. The screenwriter clearly establish a conflict between the younger and older brother before they enter Narnia and Edmund's (more felt than actual) ostracism from the family rankles the youngster.

Indeed the writers have nicely fleshed out all four children. Peter is a born leader but uncertain how to grasp leadership. Lucy, the innocent who discovers Narnia, is ever curious and determined. Susan's warm maternal instincts are clearly pronounced here. And Edmund's "treachery" stems more from hurt feelings than the mere taste of the White Witch's Turkish Delight.

Among the adult actors, Swinton stands out. She is no fairy-tale witch, but rather a fierce, modern villainess with pools of liquid evil for eyes and powerful, wiry arms that slash and thrust her many weapons. Another highlight is James McAvoy's warmth and humor in the key role of the conflicted faun, Mr. Tumnus.

The CG characters are terrific. Aslan is the Real McCoy as a lion from the individual strands of hair in his mane to those sad-angry eyes. Liam Neeson is too familiar a voice to come from this creature but Neeson does give Aslan gravitas. Ray Winstone and Dawn French turn Mr. and Mrs. Beaver into winsome, chattery creatures.

Much of the production takes place on New Zealand soundstages, but outdoor action is shot all over the globe in Poland, the Czech Republic, England and New Zealand. This all comes together into a believable Narnia as Donald M. McAlpine's crisp cinematography jives well with special effects pulled off by three companies -- Rhythm & Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks and ILM. Harry Gregson-Williams supplies the lush and lyrical score

In the Mix

Credits:
Director:
Ron Underwood
Screenwriter: Jacqueline Zambrano
Story by: Chanel Capra and Cara Dellaverson & Brian Rubinstein
Producer: John Dellaverson
Executive producers: Usher, Bill Borden, Michael Paseornek, Holly Davis-Carter
Cast:
Darrell: Usher
Frank: Chazz Palminteri
Dolly: Emmanuelle Chriqui
Fish: Robert Davi
Jackie: Matt Gerald
Fat Tony: Robert Costanzo: Frankie Junior: Anthony Fazio
Chad: Geoff Stults
Cherise: K.D. Aubert
Busta: Kevin Hart


Usher plays Darrell, a DJ at a hot club who constantly is being lusted after by beautiful women. One night, during a visit from Frank (Chazz Palminteri), the father of his best friend who also happens to be a Mafia bigwig, a gunfight breaks out and Darrell takes a bullet that would have killed Frank's beautiful daughter, Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui).

The grateful Frank takes Darrell into his palatial home to recuperate, only to have Dolly select him to be her bodyguard when he insists that she needs protection. The inexperienced Darrell does his job all too well, and the pair quickly fall in love, a development that attracts the ire of one of Frank's henchmen (Matt Gerald). Predictable plot complications ensue, with Frank trying to split up the couple even while finding himself embroiled in a mob war.

Played mostly as a drama but utterly devoid of tension, the film mainly comes across as recycled. This is particularly true of the few bits of comic relief, which include Darrell's uncomfortable encounter with a tailor trying to measure his inseam and his leering interaction with a group of women in a yoga class.

The love story aspect of the plot, which mainly consists of Darrell introducing the rarefied Dolly to such down-home pleasures as poker and soul food, is somewhat less than sizzling.

Usher mainly comes across as relaxed, and while his sex appeal is obvious, the degree to which the film depicts women as swooning and salivating over him starts to become a bit wearying. The rest of the players go through their paces in requisite fashion, with Palminteri thankfully underplaying his gangster role.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Credits:
Director:
Adam Shankman
Screenwriter: Sam Harper
Based on characters created by: Craig Titley
Based upon the novel "Cheaper by the Dozen" by: Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Producers: Shawn Levy, Ben Myron
Executive producers: Jennifer Gibgot, Adam Shankman, Garrett Grant
Cast:
Tom Baker: Steve Martin
Jimmy Murtaugh: Eugene Levy
Kate Baker: Bonnie Hunt
Lorraine Baker: Hilary Duff
Charlie Baker: Tom Welling
Nora Baker-McNulty: Piper Perabo
Sarina Murtaugh: Carmen Electra


There may be a new director on board -- hitmaker Adam Shankman ("The Pacifier," "Bringing Down the House") -- with Eugene Levy and Carmen Electra joining the party of 14, but this sequel to the remake of the old Clifton Webb-Myrna Loy chestnut keeps all the subsitcom histrionics tediously intact.

The families of all sizes who responded so enthusiastically to the original likely will be pleased to know they're getting exactly what they're paying for, but it would have been nice if all involved had at least made an effort to freshen things up just a little.

It's the beginning of summer vacation, and Tom Baker (Steve Martin) and wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) are beginning to get a taste of being empty-nesters, at least relatively speaking. With so many of their older offspring planning to go off in different directions, Tom announces that there'll be one last Baker family gathering at their old summer vacation home in Lake Winnetka, Wis.

But the promise of an idyllic season of bonding proves short-lived when Tom bumps into his old, more successful rival Jimmy Murtaugh (Levy), and the two drag their respective extended families into heated competition with each other.

Although the original was shot on studio soundstages, "CBTD2" set up camp outside of Toronto, and those long-distance bills must have been steep given the number of those involved who seem to have phoned it in.

While screenwriter Sam Harper, who shared scripting duties in the original, is content to continually trade off the slapstick and the sappy shtick, Shankman keeps his camera trained on Martin's usually dependable mug, ready to zoom in at a moment's notice to capture every "Parenthood"/"Father of the Bride"-dictated tear of joy and pain.

That promise of a Martin-Levy rematch after the two worked so well together in "Bringing Down the House" fails to pay off here, while poor Hunt has little to do but stand back and watch her sharp comedic skills go largely untapped as she's reduced to being the supportive housewife.

Behind-the-scenes contributions are sturdy enough, but virtually everything about this "Cheaper" production, which just wrapped principal photography in September, feels hurried along to meet its lucrative release date.

Fun With Dick and Jane

Credits:
Director:
Dean Parisot
Screenplay by: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller
Story by: Gerald Gaiser, Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller
Producers: Brian Grazer, Jim Carrey
Executive producers: Jane Bartelme, Peter Bart, Max Palevsky
Cast:
Dick Harper: Jim Carrey
Jane Harper: Tea Leoni
Jack McCallister: Alec Baldwin
Frank Bascombe: Richard Jenkins
Veronica: Angie Harmon
Garth: John Michael Higgins
Joe: Richard Burgi
Oz: Carlos Jacott
Blanca: Gloria Garayua


The film, directed by Dean Parisot ("Galaxy Quest") from a script by Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, makes some clever updates, setting the story in 2000 -- "a long, long time ago" in that pre-war-on-terrorism bubble of supposed innocence. In the process, though, it undercuts the potential satire with obvious swipes at that barn door of a target, corporate greed, and does so in a way that feels disingenuous, phoned-in and borderline cynical. Fans of Carrey and those looking for a break from serious awards-season offerings could give "Dick and Jane" a run at the boxoffice, but it's not likely to be a spectacular heist.

In the original film, a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses SoCal exec and his wife turn to crime after he loses his aerospace job. The wise and witty comedic acting of Segal and Fonda was one of the movie's sure strengths, though it served to make its selfish protagonists more likable, perhaps, than they should be. The setup of the new film muddles things in a different way, turning its central couple into victims of corporate shenanigans. Meant to be sympathetic, they come off as shrill and hard to embrace.

A rising exec at vaguely defined media enterprise Globodyne, Dick Harper (Carrey) tosses around meaningless mouthfuls of words like "consolidator," "synergy" and "platforms." His wife, Jane (Leoni), is the quintessential harried, multitasking working mom. At Dick's urging, she quits her stressful job as a travel agent after he scores a big-league promotion to vp communications. But Dick, it turns out, won't be in the executive suite long; he's only being set up by sleazy chief financial officer Frank Bascombe (Richard Jenkins) and company topper Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin, putting a Southern drawl on the kind of bastard he could play in his sleep). They toss their new spokesman to the cable-talk dogs -- a snarling money-show host and a deeply disappointed Ralph Nader -- just as the company disintegrates in an Enron/WorldCom-type implosion of shell companies and cooked books.

Dick and Jane's entire savings was in now-worthless Globodyne stock, and the company's demise has sent the local real estate market on a dive that would leave them owing the bank if they sold their home. Relying on visual gags and slapstick, the film milks the silliness of the situation as the Harpers remain in their superhouse sans water or electricity, among neighbors who proudly demonstrate their voice-operated Mercedes. With dozens of desperate laid-off execs vying for the same coveted positions, Dick and Jane lower their expectations with ill-fated gigs as day laborer and drug-company guinea pig. Looming foreclosure sends Dick over the edge, and soon he and the missus are wielding their son's squirt gun (no real weapons because they're not really bad) in a series of elaborately costumed stickups.

The script's jabs at Kenneth Lay and George W. Bush, however deserved, lack real sting, and Parisot puts most of his energy into dumb action, generating only a few laughs. Carrey and Leoni get the physical comedy right. They also convey the required chemistry for a couple who once scheduled dates for sex and now find lawlessness a spontaneous turn-on. But mostly they're asked to flail around in over-the-top "funny" acts.

The production package is straightforward and polished and makes good use of Los Angeles-area locations, especially the Malibu spread -- one of the many homes of Baldwin's "Walden"-quoting villain -- that bears a striking resemblance to another movie home of a hypocritical executive, that of Campbell Scott's in "The Dying Gaul."

Rumor Has It

Credits:
Director:
Rob Reiner
Screenwriter: T.M. Griffin
Producers: Paula Weinstein, Ben Cosgrove
Executive producers: George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Michael Rachmil, Leo Amato, Robert Kirby, Bruce Bermann
Cast:
Sarah Huttinger: Jennifer Aniston

Beau Burroughs: Kevin Costner
Katharine: Shirley MacLaine
Jeff: Mark Ruffalo
Earl: Richard Jenkins
Roger: Christopher McDonald
Scott: Steve Sandvoss
Annie: Mena Suvari


The cast of Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Shirley MacLaine and Mark Ruffalo ensures a high-profile Christmas Day opening for Warner Bros. Pictures. But a film with such a peculiar premise might not generate the word-of-mouth necessary to turn "Rumor" into a hit.

Aniston plays Sarah Huttinger, a young journalist whose career has hit a dead end in New York. She returns to her hometown of Pasadena, along with her devoted fiance, Jeff (Ruffalo), to attend the wedding of her sister Annie (Mena Suvari). Almost immediately, she learns that the movie (and novel) "The Graduate" might be based on her family and that her acid-tongued grandmother Katharine (MacLaine) could be the inspiration for Mrs. Robinson. Why this hasn't come up before in her 30-plus years is a puzzle, but the secret certainly becomes her obsession now.

Prewedding activities and introductions to a family seemingly at odds with Sarah's own personal makeup form a serio-comic backdrop to Sarah's journalistic inquiry into this secret. Much is at stake here, for Sarah has become convinced that she might be the offspring of a romantic rendezvous between her late mother and the "Dustin Hoffman character," which took place the week before her parents' wedding.

She tracks down an old classmate of her parents, one Beau Burroughs (Costner), now an Internet billionaire living in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Incidentally, the movie is set in 1997 to keep "The Graduate" and the characters' ages in sync.) Even as she is posing the question to him, she falls under the spell that apparently affected both her mother and grandmother.

The key problem is the underdeveloped nature of the film's heroine. The character seems built for comedy but invariably gets thrust into highly emotional situations. Yet Sarah's distress is never made credible, any more than is her ignorance of this family secret. She comes off neurotic and highly strung -- even before she learns the deep, dark secret. Plus her engagement jitters are far too exaggerated, given the absence of any real issues between her and Jeff.

Initially, the film, written by T.M. Griffin, gets comic mileage out of caricaturing Sarah's overly comfortable family -- the staid, oblivious dad (played by the underrated Richard Jenkins), her bouncy blonde sister, the sister's tennis-playing fiance and, of course, the grandmother who might be Anne Bancroft but who is really Shirley MacLaine. When the story does an about-face and tries to give these characters more depth, this serves to make the opening bits seem overly manipulative if not downright false.

Aniston gets marooned here: Her comic instincts are muted by all the identity angst, yet there isn't sufficient dramatic material into which she can sink her teeth. Costner strolls through this role with disarming ease, but the character is more of a plot gimmick than a flesh-and-blood person. MacLaine gets all the best lines and certainly delivers them with panache. The story marginalizes Ruffalo's character until the last act, and by then it's too late.

Where Reiner's direction of comedy ("When Harry Met Sally ...") and satire ("This Is Spinal Tap") once had real snap, here he is edging uncomfortably into sitcom, only with a paucity of laugh lines. Technical credits are pro, with a collection of oldies and a whimsical score by Marc Shaiman being the strongest element.

Hoodwinked

Credits:
Director:
Cory Edwards
Screenwriters: Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards, Tony Leech
Story: Todd Edwards, Cory Edwards
Producers: Maurice Kanbar, Sue Bea Montgomery, Preston Stutzman, David K. Lovegren
Editor: Tony Leech
Voices:
Red: Anne Hathaway
Granny: Glenn Close
The Woodsman: Jim Belushi
The Wolf: Patrick Warburton
Detective Bill Stork: Anthony Anderson
Nicky Flippers: David Ogden Stiers
Chief Grizzly: Xzibit
Woolworth: Chazz Palminteri
Boingo: Andy Dick

Despite attracting a name voice cast including Glenn Close, Jim Belushi and Anne Hathaway, this first effort from Kanbar Animation, a venture formed by Skyy Vodka inventor Maurice Kanbar and animation veteran Sue Bea Montgomery, gets hopelessly lost in the woods.

Hampered by a comedic tone that's too one-note to sustain a feature-length format and less than fluid digital animation, this Weinstein Co. release, which opens today in Los Angeles and goes wide Jan. 13, will unlikely have a fairy-tale ending at the boxoffice.

Writers Cory Edwards (who also directs), Todd Edwards and Tony Leech take a Rashomon approach to the Girl N the Hood story, turning Grandma's home invasion into a crime scene investigation.

No babe in the woods, Red (voiced by Hathaway), is now a martial arts expert, Granny (Close) prefers participating in extreme sports to knitting, the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) is a glib investigative journalist and the Woodsman (Belushi) is a dim-witted struggling actor.

Assigned to the case is the debonair, amphibious detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers), accompanied by police chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and police officer Bill Stork (Anthony Anderson), but while their attempts to learn the identity of the perp known as the Goody Bandit yield intermittent bits of comic inspiration, it all starts growing tired long before the happily ever after part.

It's the kind of thing that would have been right at home as a Fractured Fairy Tale segment in the old "Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoons (there's also the 1955 seven-minute Looney Tunes short, "Red Riding Hoodwinked") but at 81 minutes, with pacing that's all over the place, the production simply doesn't add up to a basket of laughs.

Not helping matters is the cost-effective but jerky CGI and bland '70s-style songs by Edwards which don't exactly blend neatly with John Mark Painter's '80s electronic Harold Faltermeyer tribute score.

Munich

Credits:
Director:
Steven Spielberg
Screenwriters: Tony Kushner, Eric Roth
Based on the book "Vengeance" by: George Jonas
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Steven Spielberg, Colin Wilson
Cast:
Avner: Eric Bana
Steve: Daniel Craig
Carl: Ciaran Hinds
Robert: Mathieu Kassovitz
Hans: Hanns Zischler
Daphna: Ayelet Zurer
Ephraim: Geoffrey Rush
Avner's mother: Gila Almagor
Papa: Michael Lonsdale
Louis: Mathieu Amalric
Andreas: Moritz Bleibtreu

The problem faced by Universal Picture, which co-produced the film with DreamWorks and will distribute, is twofold: On the domestic side, the company must market "Munich," a film without stars, as a Spielberg film, yet it's the least Spielbergian film he has ever made. Secondly, overseas marketing must counter suspicions that a controversial film about terrorism made by an American Jewish director will have an anti-Palestinian bias. It doesn't, but we're talking about perceptions here.

The film mostly concerns the aftermath of the terrifying hostage taking and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The story, written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth (based on the book "Vengeance" by George Jonas), follows the somewhat fictionalized efforts of a secret team of five Israelis stationed in Europe to track down and kill 11 Palestinians suspected of planning the Munich attack. The Munich event itself is doled out in dark, gritty flashbacks throughout the movie, but these are seen as a recurring nightmare that drives and haunts the unit's leader.

Eric Bana plays Avner Kauffman, a Mossad officer and former bodyguard to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. He is personally selected by Meir (Lynn Cohen in a fine impersonation) to lead the assassins. So great is the secrecy that he must resign his position, virtually abandon his pregnant wife (Ayelet Zurer) and operate beyond the knowledge and supervision of his bosses, particularly the morally equivocating hard-ass Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush).

The team is a surprisingly motley crew. Grimly determined South African hit man Steve (Daniel Craig) is maybe too eager to kill. Meticulous Belgian toymaker Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) has the task of assembling bombs. The German-Jew Hans (Hanns Zischler), whose cover is an antique dealer, proves an excellent forger of documents. Cleanup man Carl (Ciaran Hinds) must worry that targets are clean and no collateral damage ensues.

At first, the movie takes place in the familiar movie world of international intrigue and revenge melodrama. Gradually, though, an unease fills the scenes of the team shadowing and liquidating their prey. The victims are not what one might expect: a scholarly writer in Rome, who translates Arab literature into Italian
a dignified professor in Paris, living a comfortable bourgeois life with his family. The realization hits some of the killers that no one has seen one iota of proof that these targets had anything to do with Munich.

Certainly, no one today needs reminding how government assurances and intelligence can prove woefully wrong if not disingenuous. Indeed a new book about Israel's revengeful response to Munich claims the Israelis largely got the wrong men.

"All this blood comes back to us," complains one assassin. The unintended consequence for these men is that they are now haunted by their own bloody deeds. Worse, with these illegal acts, one argues, Israel loses its sense of righteousness. How can anyone now tell them apart from their enemies?

There is even another price. For every death, Black September, the terrorist group behind Munich, strikes back with acts often more horrific, at least in terms of body count, than Munich. Finally, the hunters find themselves among the hunted as members of Avner's team are killed one by one.

Political context comes in a telling sequence in which Avner, in his pose as a European communist, discusses the Palestinian issue with a Palestinian terrorist, who is unaware of Avner's true identity. In this calm discussion, it becomes evident that two tribes claim the same land with equal passion and that each has genuine grievances against the other. Each is willing to answer acts of violence with more acts of violence, perpetuating a deadly cycle that will never cease without the intercession of peacemakers, a group in short supply in the Middle East, then and now.

One fascinating aspect to the group's tracking down targets is their total reliance on a shady French contact, Louis (Mathieu Amalric). He along with his deceptively affable father (Michael Lonsdale) are equal-opportunity buyers and sellers of information. It takes awhile for Avner to realize that nothing prevents this charming family from selling out his team.

Spielberg stages the killings to maximize suspense without resorting to elaborate cinematic tricks. Killings and gunfights are messy, even botched. Characters are ordinary mortals with little emphasis on heroics. Avner's primary concern is a wife and daughter, whom he has spirted out of Israel to Brooklyn so he can visit them occasionally.

Locations in various countries are kept matter of fact rather than exotic. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's smooth, retro style moves the film into darker, more disturbing colors as the killings continue. Designer Rick Carter never shows off period details. Michael Kahn's editing builds suspense in the individual sequences in a Hitch*****ian manner as John Williams' muted score quickens the pulse.

The film ends as two men part ways in Brooklyn. The towers of the World Trade Center dominate the skyline behind them.

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